A race raises colon cancer awareness

Jim Mullin and Jackie McBride in the "Get Your Rear in Gear" race to raise money for colorectal cancer research.
Jim Mullin and Jackie McBride in the "Get Your Rear in Gear" race to raise money for colorectal cancer research. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 19, 2013

As Maria Grasso sees it, people are dying because people aren't talking.

So she is talking.

" 'Have you had a colonoscopy?' I work that into every conversation," said Grasso, of Mount Laurel, who organized the fifth annual "Get Your Rear in Gear" race and walk in Fairmount Park on Sunday to benefit colorectal cancer research and treatment.

Her father and grandfather died of it. Embarrassment, she said, often keeps people from talking about symptoms and from getting a colonoscopy, the test used to detect the nation's second-most fatal cancer.

"It's colon cancer," Grasso said. "No one likes to talk about it."

One goal of Sunday's event, attended by 4,000, was to move the topic of colorectal cancer from behind the bathroom door - to make it mainstream, even funny.

Funny?

Absolutely, considering the team names: Annie's Fannies, Snake Yo Drain, Bonnie's Buns, the Royal Hineys, Team Semi-Colon.

Drawing 92 participants, "Team Semi-Colon" raised $16,800 to honor Christy Angelo, a liquor saleswoman who lived in Manayunk and made up the team's name before she died on Christmas Eve at 31.

Mike Brown, 34, led his 40-member "Mike's Colostomy Crew."

"I want to get the word out," said Brown, of Mount Laurel. He wants people to pay attention to warning signs and, if symptoms do not abate quickly, to press their doctors to order colonoscopies.

Brown even contends that people should not fear one possible outcome: a colostomy, a procedure in which the body's wastes drain into a bag through a hole in the stomach.

"You have the idea that it's going to be a horrible black cloud," he said. "It's not as bad as you think.

"I equate it to the little kids being potty-trained. They were used to going in a diaper and they have to learn a new way. I had to learn to use a bag."

This year in the United States, 50,830 people are expected to die of the disease and 142,820 cases of colon or rectal cancer will be diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Association. In rankings of fatal cancers, it is second only to lung cancer.

"We're losing [so many] people a year to this largely preventable disease," said Scott Goldstein, chief of colorectal surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

Though the majority of sufferers are older than 50, many in Sunday's race were running in honor of younger people.

Three weeks after finishing chemotherapy, Kelly Diamond, 44, a mother of five from Shamong, led a team of 62 with T-shirts that read: "Take Good Care of Your Derriere."

Adam Pierson, 37, of Wilmington, was walking in honor of his wife, Ann Marie Pierson, 35 when she died in July, leaving two children, 4 and 5.

Before she died, she persuaded five of her seven siblings to be tested. Four had cancerous or pre-cancerous polyps.

"Because of my wife, we were able to save their lives," he said.

Sunday's race had a St. Patrick's theme. Some runners wore green, and there was beer afterward. Participants and spectators also could enter an inflatable colon to see models of cancerous polyps.

In its first four years, the event raised $650,000 to benefit local colorectal cancer-fighting hospitals and organizations. No tally from Sunday was available.

The winning 10K male and female runners were Philadelphians Yasmine Koukaz, 25, at 33:21, and Michael Vido, 22, at 35:51. The male and female 5K winners were Chip Skylard, 20, of Philadelphia, 17:57, and Laura Cerge, 30, 19:35. Cerge's hometown was unavailable.


Contact Jane Von Bergen 215-854-2769, jvonbergen@phillynews.com, or follow @JaneVonBergen on Twitter. Read her workplace blog at www.philly.com/jobbing.

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